R&D Cylinders

by Bottom Dealin’ Mike

If you like the looks and romance of cap and ball revolvers, but you don’t shoot them because you don’t want to be bothered dealing with loose powder and percussion caps. Or, maybe cleaning black powder fouling isn’t your cup of tea? Well now you can have your cake and eat it too. The R&D Gun Shop (5728 E County RD X, Beloit, WI 53511-9546) makes a cylinder that will let you shoot .45 Colt cartridges in your replica 1858 Remington revolver. The new cylinder drops right in, replacing the cap and ball cylinder with no gunsmithing required. They are just what you need to get that Remington out of the gun cabinet and back on the range.

I’ve been shooting cap and ball revolvers for over 25 years. And for most of those years, it was the only handgunning I did. But, since I started competing in Cowboy Action Shooting matches a couple of years ago, I’ve found myself shooting my percussion cap pistols less and less. It isn’t that I suddenly stopped liking them, it’s just that cartridges are more convenient. If you shoot cap and ball six-guns cowboy matches, you’ll find yourself spending an awful lot of time stoking them up with loose powder and ball. That cuts down on the time you have to socialize, which is really the best part of cowboy shooting. It also makes it tough to keep up with up your responsibilities on the posse. At a match, everybody is expected to help out by picking up brass, timing shooters and working the loading tables. So, when I’m off in the bushes trying to get a pair of civil war replicas revolvers ready to throw lead, I’m not carrying my load on the posse. It just seemed easier to shoot cartridge single actions. The R&D conversion cylinders changed that. Now a Remington New Model Army revolver is back in my main match battery. Only now It’s loaded with brass cartridges. It looks great, shoots great, and it’s historically accurate to boot.

Cap and Ball handguns and front loading rifles reached their pinnacle of development during the Civil War. And thanks to military necessity, hundreds of thousands of those arms were produced, but the Civil War also ushered in the end of the muzzleloading era. Breechloaders firing self-contained metallic cartridges showed their worth in the field. Units armed with Spencer and Henry lever action repeaters demonstrated the impact that high volume firepower could have on the battlefield. After the war, military planners and civilian adventurers all wanted cartridge weapons. Manufacturers were able to respond quickly with long guns, but revolvers were another matter. Thanks to the Rollin White patent, controlled by Smith and Wesson, no one else could make revolvers that loaded from the rear using completely bored through cylinders. But, in 1868, Remington found a way around the patent. They made a two-piece cylinder that was loaded with cartridges outside of the gun. After inserting cartridges into the main body of the cylinder, the shooter would top it off with the back plate and re-install the loaded cylinder on the revolver. It wasn’t as fast as slamming a new magazine into a Glock, but it was sure faster than pouring charges of loose powder into each cylinder, ramming home wads and bullets, covering the chambers with grease and then getting those pesky little percussion caps onto the nipples. Remington introduced the system on their Belt Pistols, converting .36 cap and ball cylinders to .38 rim fire. They sold a pile of them. Before long the company was selling versions in .38 centerfire and .44 rimfire and centerfire models. They even produced some revolving rifles using these two-piece cylinders.

A big selling point for Remington was the ability to use standard percussion cylinders interchangeably with the cartridge cylinders. This was a great idea in 1868 when you couldn’t count on buying those new-fangled brass cartridges in every trading post on the plains, and it’s still a pretty neat idea today. Cartridge conversions disappeared from Remington’s catalog in the 1870s, but we can enjoy them today thanks to Kenny Howell at the R&D Gun Shop. Kenny has long been known as the finest builder of authentic, cartridge conversions of nineteenth century cap and ball six-guns. His conversions are absolutely the best you can buy. But they are pricey, and as with all custom work, you have to wait. Kenny designed his Remington replacement cylinders to solve some of those shortcomings. You don’t have to wait nine months to get one of these babies. In the time it takes the mailman to make the round trip, you can be shooting cartridges in your cap and ball Remington reproduction. And the best news is that you won’t need to re-mortgage the house or sell your favorite bird dog to buy one. Prices for these cylinders are very reasonable. R&D cylinders are chambered for .45 Colt cartridges. You may wonder how that works when Remington replicas are stamped .44 caliber. It works flawlessly. Cap and ball six-guns in .44 caliber actually have .45 caliber bores. The standard roundball diameters for cap and ball shooting is .451 to .452. The bores on most recently made Italian replicas slug out at .452, though some older ones will slug at .454 inches. So, .45 Colt ammunition works just fine. These replacement cylinders are specifically warrented by R&D for use with Black Hills .45 Colt Cowboy Ammunition and for up to 34 grains of ffg black powder. However, they will handle any certified, factory-loaded .45 Colt ammunition that is loaded to SAAMI standards. R&D builds the cylinders to operate within SAAMI standards for .45 Colt, and, in fact Kenny, tests them at even higher pressures. Make no mistake; these cylinders are strong. However, that’s not license to feed hot loads through them. Save those loads for your Ruger Blackhawk or Thompson-Center Contender. The R&D cylinders might survive, but your Remington replica will take a beating. Hot loads tend to shoot the Remington replicas loose. Kenny’s experience with double proof loads shows that you can shoot a revolver loose in 600 rounds. But, with Black Hills ammo, or black powder handloads you’ll be passing that gun on to your grandchildren. I’ve been testing two R&D cylinders with a wide variety of factory ammunition and handloads. One of those cylinders has logged over 1,000 rounds and it is still going strong. In fact, quite a few of those rounds have been fired during Cowboy Action Shooting matches. These conversion cylinders are a great way for someone who began Cowboy shooting with cap and ball revolvers to save money, to move to cartridges without breaking the budget. They are also a great way to separate yourself from the great herd of shooters using Colt clones and Ruger Vaqueros. You can order these cylinders directly from the R&D Gun Shop…The ATF has ruled that they are not a firearm and can be shipped directly to shooters without an FFL. When you order, you’ll need to note the manufacturer of the Remington replica you’ll be using. Currently, Armi San Marcos, Uberti and Pietta make Remington replicas. Unfortunately, each of them requires a slightly different size cylinder. If you look on the back of the R&D cylinder, you’ll see a small "A", "U" or "P" stamped in the steel to designate which replica that cylinder will fit. They will not interchange. I can guarantee that. I know because I own two of these cylinders. One fits Armi San Marcos replicas, the other is for Piettas.

When I originally ordered one of Kenny’s cylinders for my cut down Remington replica, I didn’t realize how popular it would be. I always like the way that gun handled, but I’d retired it from cowboy shooting in favor of a cartridge gun. The R&D cylinder solved that problem. In fact, that pistol is back to being one of my favorite all around guns. Unfortunately, my sons liked it as much as I did. They started asking if they could mount the cylinder on their Remingtons. The answer, as it turned out, was no. My Remington is an Armi San Marcos manufactured gun, imported by E.M.F . Their pistols were made by Pietta for Dixie Gunworks. The cylinder simply wouldn’t go in place on a Pietta. Luckily, a phone call to R&D, and a bite out of the checkbook, was all it took to keep peace in the family. I ordered a new cylinder for their Piettas. Now they fight about who gets to use it. And the loser borrows my gun. I guess need to buy one more. It’ll be worth it to get my Remington back.